Toe Tags

Welcome to Mysteries to Die For Toe Tags. Toe Tags are first-chapter readings of new releases, often with our own review of the complete work. These chapter reads are combined with Jack’s original music to give you a real taste of the book. To try to remove my personal biases from the review, I started using the approach of comparing the work to an ideal. Yes, that in itself has an element of subjectivity. Follow this link to learn more about my process: Elements of a Perfect Story according to TG Wolff.

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Dead in the Alley by Sharon Michalove

Dead in the Alley Chapter 1

This is a second-time around, romantic suspense story. Bay Bishop has moved back home to small-town Michigan with her husband Derrick to start an upscale restaurant. It is a success in so many ways. But then Derrick is killed in a hit-and-run right outside the restaurant’s back door. The investigation takes an abrupt turn when a connection to drug trafficking is found. Enter Greg Musgrove, narcotics detective and the high school boyfriend who ghosted on her nearly 20 years ago.

Strengths of the story. The novel weaves together storylines: investigation into Derrick’s death; Bay’s grief over the loss of her husband and coming to grips with the sham that was her life; Greg juggling work, a new business venture, and the realization he stilled loved Bay; Bay’s conflicted reaction to being in close quarters with Greg again; and Bay’s issues with her parents and siblings. The lines are influenced by each other, which makes for a compelling, over arching story. The main characters, Bay and Greg, are likable and the main supporting characters add texture. Ms. Michalove culinary knowledge shines through and if she cooks as well as she describes in here, I want to go to her house.

Where the story fell short of ideal: The logic, my #1 test, was reasonable but not strong. I walked away with questions about why characters would do certain things – primarily the culprit and side characters, not Bay and Greg. With so many storylines, it isn’t surprising there are a lot of characters and keeping them all straight was a challenge I failed at a few times.

I haven’t decided where I fall on the start of the romance itself. Being romantic suspense, it is obvious where it is going. But Bay loves her husband. She is truly devastated when he is killed. It is hard for me to buy the quick turn to the one that got away. Yet, this is romantic suspense and that spark has to happen quickly, it’s just part of the game. Likely this is one place where readers will fall into different camps: didn’t notice; noticed but no problem with it; noticed and didn’t love it but got over it; and noticed and didn’t get over it. I enjoyed the book and am glad I finished it.   

Bottom line: Dead in an Alley is for you if you like second chance, redemption romances, culinary morsels, and rich storylines that immerse you in the lives of the main characters.

See You Next Tuesday by Ken Harris

See You Next Tuesday Chapter 1

This is a Private Investigator and grift story. The dynamic team of Steve Rochfish and Jawnie McGee tackle their first case as full partners. A line from later in the book gives the perfect synopsis. It’s a simple cheating husband case turned into a search and rescue, cult exfiltration and a wild ride that comes back to two old guys getting ripped off.

Rating See You Next Tuesday on a 5-point scale against the “perfect PI story”, I give this 5.00.

Strengths of the story. By now, you all know I’m hell on logic and Harris lives up to the bar. The actions of all the characters made sense for who they were. Rockfish and McGee drive the story, interfering with the bad guys plans, and the bad guys react, changing plans in a way that both creates unexpected twists and is totally reasonable given the change in their circumstances. Harris thoroughly developed his story, giving his detective material to work with. He worked them into a corner a time or two and let them fight their way out.

Where the story fell short of the ideal. The first half of the story alternates between Rockfish’s and Jawnie’s points of view. As the story progresses, we have scenes written from the POV for their new Confidential Informant Lynn and, later, the bad guys. Information the reader gains here could not come from Rockfish or Jawnie. Often, I am not a fan of changing the storytelling style mid-book, but Harris did them very well. These changes in POV were the reason the logic and the story were able to stand up as strongly as they did. There were a few stylistic elements that were not my favorite but those were certainly personal preferences. Some minor editing misses were found, but not enough to detract from the story.

Bottom line: See You Next Tuesday is for you if you like PI’s who like to mix it up with the bad guys and refuse to quit—even after the cops tell them too. Like four times.

Wolf Bog by Leslie Wheeler

Wolf Bog Chapter 1

This book is an amateur sleuth story where Katheryn Stinson, a curator of prints and photographs for a small library, is drawn into the mystery of the surfacing body of a local man who went missing forty years prior.

Rating Wolf Bog on a 5-point scale against the “perfect amateur sleuth”, I give this 3.75.

Strengths of the story. The story pacing is deliberate, continuously dropping breadcrumbs as the book winds through two main storylines. The planning and detailing of the stories were well thought out and executed. The setting of a small town in the Berkshires provides enough detail to “feel” the place without being overly descriptive. The characters are very likeable and can easily become the type of friends you want to return to story after story. They are continuing from previous books, which I have not read. Wheeler did an excellent job of providing enough context for me to understand the relationships without providing synopses of prior books. This book is well written and free of errors.

Where the story fell short of the ideal. Wheeler created an interesting but challenging story with part rooted in a past 40-years old and part rooted in the present. To meet the ideal, the elements of the story had to have strong logic in character behavior in both time periods. When you get to the end and look back over the entirety of the story, do the actions of all the players (not just the hero) hold up? Wheeler did such a good job covering up the original crime, there was little to work in modern time. As a result, Katheryn’s role in this story was less of a sleuth and more of a narrator, moving the story along its arc.

Bottom line: Wolf Bog is for you if you love small town mysteries with likeable characters, deliberate pacing and/or the Berkshire setting.


Architect of Courage by Victoria Weisfeld

Listen here for Chapter 1 and Review:

Architect of Courage Chapter 1

In the book, the genre was listed as murder mystery. If you pick up this book expecting a murder mystery, you will be disappointed. This book is not a whodunnit, where the amateur sleuth Archer Landis is solving the mystery of his lover’s murder. This book is a thriller, where the unwilling hero, Archer Landis, is being accosted personally and professionally, forcing him to chase the rabbit down its hole.

Rating Architect of Courage on a 5-point scale against the “perfect thriller”, I give this 4.25.

Strengths of the story. The pacing is fast without being aggressive and has the plot twists that are the hallmark of a good thriller. Our hero is in constant mortal danger, and like so many thriller heroes, has no idea why. The setting moves between NYC, a beach house, and the south of Spain and draws in international figures from Spain, Israel, and Morocco. Having the hero be an industry leading architect sets this book apart, bringing in a world seldom explored in thrillers. This book is well written in terms of the noun-verb-noun writing and the editing. There is a lot to like.

Where the story fell short of the ideal. While the book is well written, the opening chapters were rough. The adjectives were too flowery, the cheating husband too falling on his own sword. There are also several convenient coincidences as well as suggestions by minor characters that felt less than organic, intentionally set to advance to the next chapter. This does clean up by about the fifth chapter, when the story really takes off.

Thriller endings are often difficult. Authors generally have created such a complex weave of plots (those twists and turns readers love) that to unravel each one in a logical and satisfying manner is a very complicated task. When you get to the end and look back over the entirety of the story, do the actions of all the players (not just the hero) hold up? Weisfeld did better then most, but she wasn’t perfect. I am not going to go into spoiler detail. These plot resolution points prevented me from scoring the book higher, but I doubt it is something that will bother the vast majority of thriller lovers.

Bottom line: Architect of Courage is for you if you are into thrillers, faster paced stories, and international flavors.

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